Mar 262015
 

Each month Blogging Business Artisans (BBA) hosts a challenge suggested by a team member. Team members are required to complete at least four of these challenges each year. The March challenge was proposed by Cynthia of Antiquity Travelers, as follows:

The first signs of spring . . . what does spring mean to you? What inspires you as the weather starts to warm up?

It should come as no surprise to anyone that spring always suggests flowers to me. I’m sure I’m not alone! Of course, with my black thumb, we are not generally talking about live flowers in my household. When my husband brings me fresh flowers, he’s the one who remembers to water them. In fact, he brought me an Easter lily yesterday, with the blooms not yet open.

Easter Lily

You nearly always find my version of artificial flowers on the covers of my books, on items I sew, and on the women’s accessories I crochet. This month, in the spirit of honoring Cynthia’s challenge, I decided to tackle a new type of book project that incorporates a floral theme. Have you ever heard of an explosion book? Some people also call this a squash book because of the way that the pages smoosh together when you close the book. But when you open up the book, you might be reminded of the way the petals of a flower open when they first begin to bloom.

Book Opening Up Like Flower

Except that this book opens up completely, like an explosion, and occupies some acreage when the “pages” are spread out. I decorated both sides of the book.

Both Sides of Book Pages

So, what do you do with an explosion book? Fill it with memories, of course! It’s a scrapbook mini album where you can paste photos, ticket stubs, dried flowers, write some favorite lines of poetry, collect signatures, or simply glue in your choice of ephemera. And it’s a great place to add decorated tags. I made a collection of them from leftover paper. Don’t want to use them in the book? Fine. Use them as gift tags, bookmarks, or in another album.

Tags Made from Leftover Paper ScrapsAnd here is the cover, front and back. The book stays shut with the help of a ponytail holder, threaded through a large eyelet on the back cover. If you prefer to tie the book shut, you can add ribbon to one or both covers, depending on how you want to tie it, before you adhere the pages. For this book, I wanted a closure that would open and close quickly.

Book Covers - Front and Back

Now, I have a confession to make. This is actually the second version of the explosion book I made. The first version used good quality Bazzill card stock for the pages, a heavy-weight textured paper that ordinarily is great for book projects. But not this one. If you decide to cover both sides of the paper, the paper gets stressed wherever fold lines intersect, and after just a few openings and closings of the book, it can begin developing holes at those intersections. Not good! I thought about reinforcing these areas with extra paper, even fabric, but this adds bulk to the book and is just plain unattractive.

So, I gritted my teeth and started all over, keeping the cover from the first explosion book, but nothing else. What I used instead of card stock for the pages was Kraft-Tex, a heavy-duty “paper fabric” that sells in 18 or 19-inch by 1-1/2 foot rolls in kraft paper brown, black and white. What’s special about this paper is that you can cut it, sew it, paint it, sand it, emboss it, wash it, and throw it in your dryer. In other words, it’s miracle paper—perfect for a book whose pages are folded and re-folded umpty-ump times. I “trained” my paper to stay folded in the directions needed for this book by clipping the pages into place with Clover Wonder Clips, normally used for sewing.

Train the page folds with Clover Wonder Clips

When I decorated the pages of the book the second time around, I realized that I preferred to decorate them before I attached the covers. Honestly, it probably doesn’t make much difference except for the paper that is adhered close to the covers, as you have to tuck them beneath a corner of each cover. One of the most fun aspects of making one of these books is piecing together the paper prints. It feels a lot like quilting!

Quilt-Style Paper Cuts

I would like to offer these books in my shop, hopefully in time for spring graduations. These could be interesting in black and white, filled with photos of friends. They might also make great bridesmaid gifts. My head is spinning with ideas. Thank you, Cynthia, for coming up with the March challenge!

Angled Perspective of  Book

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Mar 222015
 

You wonder sometimes if opportunities seek you out, or if it’s the other way around.

Once upon a time I thought I would become a teacher, specifically a German language teacher. Although that never happened, at least not officially as I never obtained teacher certification, I discovered many opportunities over the years to provide instruction or training. As you know if you regularly read my blog posts, I love to write tutorials. Beyond that, however, I have had the privilege of providing German language lessons to elementary students as a volunteer, tutoring individuals in German at my kitchen table, and developing lesson plans and then teaching enrichment or extracurricular classes for gifted grade school students in fine arts, science, social studies and literature.

These photos represent the final National History Day projects for elementary students I taught after school.

These photos represent National History Day projects for elementary students I taught.

I spent a dozen years developing and teaching young people and adults about creative problem-solving tools through the Destination Imagination program, which sometimes led to other opportunities for the students. For a couple of summers, I collaborated with the Des Moines Art Center and the Iowa Architectural Foundation, who offered several Destination Imagination teams the opportunity to participate in the Ideal Object Workshop. One summer four teams participated in three workshops as they explored the definition of art, learned how art, architecture and everyday objects can be combined, and were challenged to create “Ideal Objects” matching the spirit of artist Tom Sachs’ exhibition that was on display at the time at the Des Moines Art Center. Students worked as both designer/contractors and clients, creating objects designed to make their lives easier within the kitchen, bathroom, garage and bedroom. Each team built an object for a room in a house that addressed three requests of a client (which just happened to be another team in the workshop). Students were provided with funds and the guidance of an architect and a contractor to help them work toward their Ideal Objects. At the conclusion of the program, the students’ projects were displayed at the Des Moines Art Center and the Adrienne and Charles Herbert Galleries.

Designing the X-treme Clean Machine 2000 for its client, Ames Middle School, “Cakewaves” created an Ideal Object for the kitchen that has the ability to clean, play music and store items.

Designing the X-treme Clean Machine 2000 for its client, Ames Middle School, “Cakewaves,” a team from West Des Moines, created an Ideal Object for the kitchen that has the ability to clean, play music and store items.

Producing a unique bathroom chair for grooming and grooving for its client, “That Team From Grinnell,” Ames Middle School created an Ideal Object that can dry, weigh, play music and includes distinct primping areas for boys and girls.

Producing a unique bathroom chair for grooming and grooving for its client, “That Team From Grinnell,” Ames Middle School created an Ideal Object that can dry, weigh, play music and includes distinct primping areas for boys and girls.

Crafting a workbench for the garage with a ping-pong ball warning system for its client, Ames High School, was “That Team From Grinnell.” Their Ideal Object incorporates a workbench with built-in tools, has additional areas for tool storage, and has a means for stopping a car.

Crafting a workbench for the garage with a ping-pong ball warning system for its client, Ames High School, was “That Team From Grinnell.” Their Ideal Object incorporates a workbench with built-in tools, has additional areas for tool storage, and has a means for stopping a car.

Ames High School team members built a multi-use station for the bedroom for its client, “Cakewaves,” that has the ability to store items, help the client fall asleep and includes a homework station

Ames High School team members built a multi-use station for the bedroom for its client, “Cakewaves,” that has the ability to store items, help the client fall asleep and includes a homework station

Before our son was born, when I was a software support specialist, I even taught adults how to use word processing programs. Let’s face it, with or without the certification, I’m a teacher at heart and in practice.

What has touched me the most personally, however, is the time I have spent with others, sharing my love for handmade crafts. It was wonderful to discover I have a niece who enjoys cross stitch as much as I do, and to discuss techniques with her. I was proud of and gratified by the growth displayed by a former neighbor, now a young lady in her 20s, to whom I taught basic sewing skills when she was a child. She eventually began sewing and selling period dresses. When I managed a Destination Imagination team, I taught six middle school boys how to thread a sewing machine, and stitch straight and curved lines so they could make their own costumes. By the time they were high school freshman, you couldn’t hold back their creativity!

During their freshman year of high school, my team solved a challenge called StranDId involving a team of archaeologists stranded in time, specifically in ancient Egypt.

During their freshman year of high school, my team solved a challenge called StranDId involving a team of archaeologists stranded in time, specifically in ancient Egypt.

With that kind of background, it’s probably no surprise that I enjoy sharing my passion for crochet with friends and family. I taught a left-handed friend to crochet while we sat on her living room couch, taught my mother and husband to crochet, and even our son.

Even though she was a beginning crocheter, my mother decided to tackle thread crochet. She kept herself busy during her bedridden days before she passed away by edging these handkerchiefs. "A lady," she used to say," always carries a hanky in her purse."

Even though she was a beginning crocheter, my mother decided to tackle thread crochet. She kept herself busy during her bedridden days before she passed away by edging these handkerchiefs. “A lady,” she used to say,” always carries a hanky in her purse.” I treasure these last bits of my mother’s handiwork.

Not everyone enjoys the art of hooking to the same extent that I do, so I’m never offended when I discover later that they’ve forgotten how to crochet or that it has been years—perhaps decades—since they flipped a strand of yarn over the hook. The point is that the act of teaching someone to do something you love is simultaneously an act of sharing. You’re sharing your skill, true, but you’re also sharing your passion and your desire to connect on a deeper level. Although I never got a chance to know my German grandmother who crocheted the circular lace table cloth shown below, I’m sure we would have enjoyed each other’s company and our shared interest in needlecraft.

Lace Tablecloth from Oma

I suspect my left-handed friend and our son no longer crochet, but have fond memories of the time we spent exploring the craft together. My husband, however, has become hooked, if you’ll pardon the over-used pun. When he was between jobs decades ago, after he had retired his commission from the U.S. Navy and was interviewing for jobs, finances got a little tight and John went through some nail-biting episodes. One day I suggested that it might help him to relax a bit if he learned how to crochet. At first he was reluctant, but then he agreed and asked me to bring him a ball of yarn and a hook. Although I don’t have a photo of it, his first project (like my own) was a scarf. Since that time, he has become a specialist—he crochets afghans. A side benefit is that he’s my biggest supporter when I need to shop for yarn. A down side, perhaps, is that we both end up shopping and the bill is subsequently higher.

When our son was a baby, John crocheted the afghan draped over our son’s head, shown in the photo below.

David's 1st Smile - 5 weeks

We like to say this was David’s first smile, at five weeks old, as he poses for a portrait wearing the blanket his father crocheted.

Although I haven’t snapped photos of every project John has completed, I’m certain he has crocheted an afghan for every niece and nephew, our parents, and of course our own family, several times over.

John's Afghans

For the last nine years, we have rented a cabin at Backbone State Park in northeastern Iowa. Especially when it rains, out come the yarn stash and crochet hooks.

John crochets at Backbone State Park 2008

I have discovered, over the years, that I am not the only one in the family who seeks opportunities to share her craft. John enjoys small woodworking projects, so when I needed a book press and a sewing frame for my bookbinding, he made them for me from scratch.

Bookbinding Tools

What about our son? He, too, shares his passion for handmade crafts with others. After he graduated from college with dual majors in literature and history, he became a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, an organization that specializes in researching and re-creating the arts and skills of pre-17th-century Europe. David not only practices period archery and fencing, but has taught basic bow skills to others, marshaled archery events, and taught fencing classes in the use of the rotella (a round concave shield). He fletches arrows by hand (attaches feathers to arrows), tools leather, and has even made his own period war bow—sharing these handmade passions with others through conversations, gifts or commissions. If you’re interested in contacting him, by the way, you can reach him by e-mail at davnolan88@gmail.com.

David's Arrow Fletching and Leatherwork

You’ll want to click on this photo to see the details in the leatherwork and arrow fletching.

Although you can read a book or take a class in person or online to learn a new craft or improve your handmade skills, there is no substitute for a one-on-one demonstration. That demonstration inevitably strikes up a conversation that goes beyond the craft, leading to new friendships, new understandings, and an appreciation for both craft and person. When you share your craft with others, you forge links that cross generational gaps with ease and create memories that will last forever. What craft skill or passion have you shared lately with others?

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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Mar 212015
 

In this online world, statistics are gathered everywhere by many different tracking tools, but how and whether you use them is up to you. If nothing else, online statistics provide you with some food for thought, which may lead to a change in your blogging and/or business behavior. Here are a few things that statistics can do for you.

Identify your most popular blog posts

When I first started a blog, I installed a StatCounter plugin that tracks the number of unique views to my Web site. It also tracks many other details, among them what days of the week my site is visited most. I’m sure this is different for everyone, but for me posts on Mondays and Thursdays collect the most visitors, and Friday and Saturday posts collect the fewest. I’d like to say that I use these statistics to determine when to post, but life often intervenes. StatCounter also lists my most popular pages and the number of hits (views) they have garnered. The top five contenders on my site are comprised of six posts and one post tag:

Interestingly, all but one of these links points to a tutorial, which suggests this is what my readers want most to read. I guess it’s a good thing I like to write tutorials! This type of information can help you determine what types of posts will gather the most readers.

Determine the most sought-after items in your Etsy shop

The Stats page of your Etsy shop tracks your views, favorites, orders and revenue for specific periods of time, but it also lists the keywords that site visitors use to find your shop or items in it. If you change the time frame to “All Time,” you can determine what keywords or phrases lead visitors most frequently to your shop. This might suggest to you where you need to concentrate your marketing efforts, or what sections in your shop need your attention. My top five keyword phrases, for example, are as follows:

  • Gratitude journal
  • Birthday reminder book
  • Brag book
  • Clipboard
  • Mini clipboard

I used this information to set goals for increased numbers of gratitude books and mini photo books (brag books). Obviously I need to also consider adding Save the Date books (birthday reminder books) and clipboards. The fact that visitors search for birthday reminder books more often than Save the Date books is also worth pondering.

Products Found Using Top 5 Keyword Searches

The least used keywords might suggest items that need better photos, tags, titles or descriptions—or simply items that you may not wish to carry any longer. If the keywords leading visitors to your shop do not result in sales, you may need to ask yourself why there appears to be a disconnect. Keep in mind that Etsy search algorithms evolve constantly, and be prepared to frequently adjust your tags, titles, descriptions and photos accordingly. You can use these keyword resources to help you target keyword phrases more effectively:

Identify your Etsy shop traffic

If you’ve ever asked yourself where your buyers come from, whether it’s worth it to blog, or if you should market yourself through Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter or Facebook, look no further than the “Traffic Sources” section of your Etsy Stats page. When I visited my own page, the following top 10 traffic sources were listed.

Top 10 Etsy Traffic Sources

While many of these sources are self-explanatory, a few are not. If you click on the question mark for Direct Traffic, for example, you’ll understand that this traffic source represents buyers who type your shop address into their browser bar, bookmark your page, or click on a link in an e-mail message, Instant Message or mobile app. How you can affect the numbers under Direct Traffic is to pass out business cards, include your shop address on packaging materials, include an automated signature (with links) in your e-mails, or provide links within an e-mail newsletter. Let me know in the comments below this post about other ways to address Direct Traffic that I have not mentioned.

When Etsy is referred to as a traffic source, this simply means that the titles, tags, product descriptions—and of course your photos, above all—are working. When someone types a word or phrase into their Etsy search bar, or when they click on a photo located on the site, both are Etsy traffic sources. In fact, if Etsy is not your number one source of traffic on Etsy, you need to ask yourself why it isn’t, and then modify your listings.

References to Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and other types of social media platforms suggest that your shop page, sections or product links are being shared. Obviously, neither the day nor the week is long enough to play with social media and still have time to create, photograph, list products, package, ship, blog, and perform the myriad tasks that Etsy sellers face. Choose the social media platforms that chime with you, and work them effectively. If you haven’t already created a Facebook page for your shop (or even if you have), make sure you link it under your Etsy account’s “Info & Appearances” page.

If you only have one shop, link both your Facebook page and Twitter account to it. I link my Facebook page to MisterPenQuin, and my Twitter account to JNOriginals.

If you only have one shop, link both your Facebook page and Twitter account to it. I link my Facebook page to MisterPenQuin, and my Twitter account to JNOriginals.

Please note that a Facebook page for your Etsy shop is not the same thing as your personal Facebook account. For myself, I struggle with what to list as my Facebook page, as I have three active Etsy shops at the moment. I really don’t have time to maintain a social presence on three different Facebook pages, so I’ve created a Facebook page linked to my blog for MisterPenQuin, and a Twitter page linked to my blog for JNOriginals. It’s not ideal, but Etsy does not allow you to link to the same Facebook or Twitter account multiple times if you have multiple shops.

Blog traffic can originate either from your own blog, or from other blogs where you have built a relationship, causing links to your Etsy shop(s) to be shared. Obviously, this is often an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” type of situation. Read other blogs that share your interests, comment on posts, and link to these posts within your own blog where it’s appropriate. Being genuine is important if you want to maintain relationships with other bloggers!

References to Google or Google Products mean that someone has clicked on a Google Products ad for which Etsy has paid. Did you know that your Etsy products are automatically listed on Google? How visible these listings are is directly related to the effectiveness of your tags, titles, product descriptions and photos. In my case, for whatever reason, the German version of Google, www.google.de, is also listed. I’m not really sure why, but it is one of my top 10 traffic sources. I do read, write and speak German, but I don’t imagine anyone on Google knows or cares.

Some resources that you may find helpful in understanding your own Etsy shop statistics include the following articles:

The decisions we make about our blog posts or the items we sell online are sometimes the result of gut feelings, accurate or not, but it’s nice to know that statistics-tracking tools can help back up some of those decisions with facts. What are your favorite statistics tools for your blogging and/or your business needs, and how do you use them?

© 2015 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.

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